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Coming to America - What International Students Should Know About Student Health Insurance

Updated: Mar 20

When international students arrive in the U.S. to pursue higher education, they are inundated with new experiences. A foreign campus environment and challenging course loads aside, they often must also speak a second language, adapt to a different culture, and navigate all the complexities of daily life.

Talk about a learning curve!

On top of these everyday challenges, international students are also faced with a concept that might be entirely unfamiliar to them: health insurance. Health insurance can be tricky enough for permanent U.S. residents to understand and is all the more complicated for international students.

This guide is intended to provide international students with useful information aimed at helping them understand some basic elements of health insurance, so they can focus on what really matters—adjusting to college life in a new country, excelling in their schoolwork, and thriving on campus.

School administrators will also find this information helpful as they consider how to best educate their international students on navigating the U.S. healthcare system and using their benefits on campus. For help designing a student health care plan or developing education programs for students, contact our experts at HUB Campus Health.

Why do international students need health insurance?

Unlike in many other countries, health care is not free in the United States. Individuals are responsible for paying for their own health care, which can be expensive. Certain medical treatments or hospitalizations can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s where health insurance comes in. Health insurance mitigates these expenses by covering a portion of the fees, leaving the insurance holder with a much smaller financial burden.

How does health insurance work?

Health insurance is provided by an insurance company or carrier and offered to individuals through an employer, a university, the government, or direct to the individual. Most people are required to pay a fee (called a premium) for health care coverage through a health insurance provider.

Will a college or university require international students to purchase student health insurance?

In most cases, yes. Because of the nature of health insurance in the United States, some colleges and universities require coverage as a matter of practice. Additionally, certain types of visas may dictate certain coverage criteria. Often, student health insurance is the most cost-effective option tailored to the needs of international students.

Are there any exceptions?

Some international students have financial guarantees through their home country that exempt them from student insurance requirements. Some schools also allow students to waive the student insurance if they can provide proof of sufficient alternative coverage. It is best for students to contact their school’s international student office for specific stipulations. To opt out of student insurance, students must obtain a waiver through their college or university’s international education office. This generally happens during the enrollment process.

What are the federally regulated requirements for international student insurance?

When shopping for insurance, students studying in the U.S. on an exchange visitor visa (J) must consider the specific requirements of their visa. Currently, per the Code of Federal Regulations, health insurance plans for international students on an exchange visitor visa must meet the following coverage requirements:

  • A student’s insurance plan must offer medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness.

  • The insured student’s insurance plan deductible must not exceed $500.

  • A policy must provide coverage for repatriation of remains to a student’s home country in the amount of $25,000 and coverage must provide for the medical evacuation of exchange visitors to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000.

The uncommonly low $500 deductible requirement may make finding commercial plans that fit within federal regulations difficult as most deductibles on individual policies are much higher. Student insurance plans offered through colleges and universities, however, meet these criteria and are an accessible and convenient route students can take to avoid visa-related complications.

How much does student insurance cost?

Premium rates for health insurance coverage vary from plan to plan. The educational institution is responsible for informing students of the premium for the student health insurance plan that is offered.

How can students use their health insurance?

Once coverage is active, students will often receive a card with details specific to their coverage. This card can be presented during visits to student health centers and other in-network health care facilities. Some insurance providers also offer apps and other online resources to help students manage and understand their benefits.

Where can students use their student health insurance?

The most straightforward place to access healthcare using student insurance is at campus health centers. These facilities offer a variety of acute and primary care services and are conveniently located on campus. Students can seek care at outside healthcare facilities, but it’s best to choose in-network providers to keep expenses down. Student health insurance can also be used to obtain prescription medication and for dental care.

What is the difference between in-network and out-of-network providers?

In-network providers are doctors and facilities that are contracted with the insurance provider to offer care at lower out-of-pocket cost. Students can still use out-of-network providers but may be charged more for care. To avoid unexpected fees, it is best to search for eligible in-network providers on the insurance company’s website before scheduling any appointments.

Will student health insurance cover medical care outside of the U.S.?

In most cases, yes. Student health insurance will offer some level of coverage for medical expenses accrued outside of the country. Check with the college or university’s specific health insurance provider to better understand the details.

Key definitions

Health insurance is complex, but it doesn't have to be difficult to understand. Here are some commons terms to know when reviewing and discussing the plan and what they mean.

  • Premium: The cost a member pays for insurance.

  • Deductible: The amount the member must pay before the insurance company will start paying.

  • Out of Pocket Maximum (OOPM): The maximum amount the member is responsible for during the coverage period. Once the OOPM is met, the insurance will pay 100% of remaining balances for that coverage period. OOPM amounts vary from plan to plan.

  • Copayment/Coinsurance: Copayment (or copay) is a dollar amount and coinsurance is a percentage the member will be responsible to pay. An Emergency Room copay might be $125, while the Emergency Room coinsurance is 20% after, and in addition to the copay.

  • Provider Network: A network of doctors and/or facilities that are contracted with the insurance provider to offer care at lower out-of-pocket costs.

It’s natural for students to feel overwhelmed when it comes to insurance. School administrators can ease this burden by providing clear communication and readily accessible information designed to help students understand their benefits and feel comfortable utilizing them. Our experts can help you educate students on their coverage with Q&A sessions, presentations and more.

At HUB Campus Health, we champion bold innovations and offer customized health plans, resources, and tools designed to improve the overall health and wellbeing of your students. Together, we can offer the holistic support students need to thrive on campus and succeed in life.

To get started, visit our Campus Health webpage to fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Phillip Arrington, Vice President of HUB Campus Health, at

The information contained in this document is informational only and is not intended as, nor should it be construed as, legal or accounting advice. Neither HUB nor its consultants provide legal, tax nor accounting advice of any kind. We make no legal representation, nor do we take legal responsibility of any kind regarding regulatory compliance. Please consult your counsel for a definitive interpretation of current statute and regulation and their impact on you and your organization.

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